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C h a p t e r 7 Anquetil-Duperron’s Search for the True Vedas In 1762, after his return from India, Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron (1731–1805) wrote to one of his former classmates at a Jansenist seminary in Utrecht, Holland: To deepen the understanding of the history of ancient peoples, to elaborate the revolutions which peoples and languages undergo, to visit regions unknown to the rest of the people where art has preserved the character of the first ages: you will perhaps remember, with distress and sighing about my follies, that these subjects have always been the focus of my attention. (Schwab 1934:18) From his youth, Anquetil-Duperron’s interest in the world’s first ages was connected to a deep religiosity that put him on the path to priesthood. It is probably during his theological studies at the Sorbonne that young AnquetilDuperron wrote a manuscript of about a hundred pages that is now part of his dossier at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.1 It is titled ‘‘Le Parfait théologien’’ (The Perfect Theologian), but the word ‘‘Parfait’’ is doubly struck through. The title is emblematic for Anquetil-Duperron’s career; and the manuscript, ignored even by Anquetil-Duperron’s biographers,2 merits a look. The Perfect Theologian Anquetil-Duperron starts out by insisting that theology is ‘‘a science like philosophy’’ but must, unlike philosophy, stay within the limits circumPAGE 363 ................. 17751$ $CH7 05-21-10 15:32:17 PS 364 chapter 7 scribed by ‘‘a genuine revelation, the mysteries of religion, and several dogmas transmitted to us by apostolic tradition,’’ which form the bedrock that no one is allowed to question (p. 369r). Since natural religion is also a subject of philosophy, the proper realm of theology is that of revelation (p. 371r). Yet the idea that people have of theology is far too narrow, and Anquetil-Duperron wants in this manuscript to show how broad and deep theology must be. Chapter 3 is titled ‘‘That a theologian must be almost universal’’ and argues that, faced with many pretended revelations, a theologian must be equipped to judge their claims. This indicates the need for knowledge of several languages in order to read the original texts; of history to understand their context; of geography to understand their setting; and of poetry to appreciate their style. ‘‘All such knowledge thus forms part of theology’’ (p. 373v). Furthermore , a real theologian should know not only the Old and New Testaments and all related languages but everything ever divinely revealed and transmitted (p. 375r). He must also question Old Testament authorship: Is Moses really the first of all writers, as has been asserted by some fathers? If that was the case, where did he get his creation story and deluge story and even the Abraham story from? Did he prophesy the past, as a monk has recently argued? Or has he only reported things that were known in his time and that he could have learned from the tradition of the patriarchs because of the long lifespan of the first humans, as the majority of authors think? But who can say if there were not other historians before Moses, and earlier books? (p. 381v) A theologian worth the name has to go to the bottom of all these questions, research all opinions and sources ancient and modern, and must especially ‘‘discover the systems of Chaldaea, Phoenicia, and Egypt’’ (p. 393r). Another ‘‘thorny question’’ that ‘‘requires infinite caution’’ is that of Paradise and Adam’s sin: What is this delicious garden of which we are told? Where was it? What has become of it? 1. Was it on the moon or in the air, as some fathers have believed? 2. Was it exclusively spiritual or corporeal, or both together as St. John Damascene thought? 3. Was it in the Orient? In Syria? In Armenia? Or close to India [vers le mogol], where one ordinarily places it? 4. Or was it the entire habitable earth, as some theologians have asserted? 5. How can one reconcile what Genesis says about these PAGE 364 ................. 17751$ $CH7 05-21-10 15:32:17 PS Anquetil-Duperron’s Search for the True Vedas 365 four rivers [of paradise] with geography as it is now known? 6. Could the location have changed? What proofs are there of that? 7. If there is no proof: must one take recourse to parables? (p. 393v) Such is the kind of questions over which young Anquetil-Duperron pondered...


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